An estimated 55 million global consumers will have Internet access in their cars by 2016, up from a mere 860,000 at the end of 2009, according to iSuppli Corp.
Automotive Internet access initially is being used to provide entertainment and information services to PCs and other devices within cars. While passengers can use such systems to access the Internet at any time, drivers are intended to use these services only when their cars are stopped, in order to avoid distractions.
However, in the long term, car Internet access could yield innovative new applications that enhance driver safety. One promising application for automotive infotainment is the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). ITS allows cars to wirelessly communicate with each other and to traffic management systems to enhance safety and reduce congestion. The United States is expected to be the leading region for car Internet access in 2009 and the following six years, with users rising to 28 million in 2016, up from 530,000 in 2009.
Internet access requires a two-way communication link, which brings up a key question: Which communication links in the car will be used for Internet access? There are currently four potential communication links that could be used for automotive Internet access: mobile phones, embedded cellular links, broadband cellular connections to Wi-Fi routers and system using Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I).
Mobile Phones for Automobile Internet
Smart phones and other types of cellular handsets with data plans will account for the majority of wireless links for Internet-connected cars. This means that Internet connected cars will be closely tied into the mobile-phone Internet business. Mobile handsets will account for 91 percent of auto Internet links in 2009, and 69 percent in 2016.
Examples of cell-phone-based car Internet systems include Ford’s Sync and Fiat’s Blue&Me. Both of these solutions tether to the mobile phone but neither requires a data plan.
Sync recently added telematics services that send Data Over Voice (DOV). The communication requirements for these solutions are tied to the user’s mobile phone plan. iSuppli believes most Internet access in the car will be implemented through external communications devices that the user controls.
An embedded cellular link is used for telematics solutions such as General Motors’ OnStar, BMW Assist and many other systems. The embedded telematics systems provide services focused on safety, convenience and navigation.
BMW’s Assist system allows limited Internet access via the iDrive service for a few models in Germany. BMW’s Internet access requires an additional Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) with a data plan to pay for the communication cost. The BMW Internet access system can be used only while the car is parked and does not permit streaming media such as Internet radio.
The broadband cellular connection to a Wi-Fi router—i.e, Autonet Mobile—provides an Internet connection to any Wi-Fi device in the car. This is a promising emerging category with low current shipment rates. This system is the most Internet-centric of any of the four automotive Internet connection options.
This approach currently requires an additional data plan, which is a potential inhibitor for adoption. If the driver phone could be used to provide the communication link, the extra data plan would not be needed. In essence this would merge the embedded cellular link/mobile phone approaches into a single system, which would have significant market potential.
The last potential auto communication link is a solution that employs Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) systems.
V2V and V2I systems, also called V2X, are in the testing stage after many years of government-sponsored R&D projects in several countries. V2X systems are focused on safety applications to reduce intersection and highway accident rates.
However, other applications can be used with lower priority than safety functions. Internet applications are likely to become popular when V2X systems are fully deployed. In the long-term, after 2020, V2X will become an important communication network along major highways that can provide Internet access for autos traveling on these roads. Since V2X mandates are expected around 2017, all autos sold after the mandate takes effect will have built-in communication links that can be used for Internet applications.
Information Superhighway on the Road
Internet applications and content are set to make a major impact on car drivers and passengers during the next decade. There will undoubtedly be new and innovative car-centric Internet applications and services.
But there will also be usage restrictions due to driver distraction issues while driving a car. Better interfaces with minimal driver distraction for Internet-based content will emerge in the next few years. Some of this will be enabled by new infotainment systems and architectures.
There is also a tremendous impetus coming from the mobile device world, with an explosion of applications related to mobility. Some of these applications will find their way into cars.
Read More, Telematics Systems: Here to Stay >